French Market Inn’s Guide to Spring Festivals in New Orleans
New Orleans Wine and Food Experience 2016. ©Brandt Images – All Rights Reserved.
Every new season in New Orleans brings something special, and this coming spring we’re looking forward to festival fun. With the city’s festival season in full bloom, something is going on pretty much every week/end during spring’s official rein. Here is a rundown of the annual events happening in New Orleans between March and June.
Unwind with a cold beverage on any given Wednesday at the Square, a free concert music series held in the spring in Lafayette Park (located one block off of Poydras Street, between St. Charles Avenue and Camp Street) every Wednesday evening, in the heart of the Central Business District. From March through May, these outdoor concerts feature a variety of jazz, rock, swam pop, brass, Latin rhythms, and more. Bring a chair or a blanket, or dance by the stage, and dogs and kids are welcome.
No March in New Orleans is complete without mentioning the festivities surrounding St. Patrick’s Day. It often comes as a surprise to first-time visitors to New Orleans that this city has a deep Irish heritage, which traces back to its history as a Catholic port of call that was one of the main entry points for the USA. There’s an entire neighborhood in this town called the Irish Channel, plus a plethora of fantastic pubs.
The weekend closest to St. Patrick’s Day (or the actual day of, if it falls on the weekend) turns emerald green thanks to three parades and numerous block parties across the city. The Molly’s at the Market Parade rolls through the French Quarter; the massive Irish Channel Parade Uptown has float riders passing cabbages to the screaming crowds; and the Downtown Irish Club Parade rolls from the Bywater to the French Quarter, making several pit stops on its way to Bourbon Street.
The annual gathering of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes, called Super Sunday, is perhaps the most open means of accessing this unique element of New Orleans backstreet culture. If you are lucky you might see the Indians out and about on St. Joseph’s Day and the tribes will be out in larger numbers on Super Sunday, which, weather permitting, typically falls on the third Sunday of March. You can catch the gathering and the procession either at the A.L. Davis Park, at the corner of Washington and LaSalle streets; or in Bayou St. John in Mid-City, at the intersection of Orleans and Moss streets, on the bayou’s banks and the Orleans Street bridge.
The annual New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE) provides local and visiting epicureans and hobbyists an extended weekend of libations and culinary indulgence in a style that is uniquely New Orleans. NOWFE is designed to encourage participation in the full gamut of food and wine-centered experiences. The event offerings include package rates, activities, and dinners with something at nearly every price point with attire ranging from costumed to cocktail depending on the event and venue.
Next up are the New Orleans Book Festival, held at Tulane University and featuring readings, panel discussions, keynote speeches, and so on; and the ever-popular Top Taco NOLA. The annual culinary extravaganza is held at Woldenberg Park and features dozens of restaurants and spirit and beverage companies serving and competing in a variety of categories, including Top Creative Taco, Top Traditional Taco, Top Creative Cocktail, and Top Traditional Margarita. Attendees get to sample unlimited gourmet tacos and signature cocktails from some of the top chefs and mixologists in New Orleans.
Few other New Orleans events attract such a heavily millennial crowd as the curated underground warehouse party experience, the BUKU Music + Art Project. It takes over Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World along the Mississippi Riverfront every March with four stages of electronica, EDM, hip-hop, and indie music, plus art installations and demos.
On the last weekend of March, the five-day Tennessee Williams Literary Festival celebrates this city’s love affair with the written word, as well as writers’ love affair with New Orleans, at the same time paying homage to the brilliant Tennessee Williams with conferences, a book fair, walking tours, and the “Stella” and “Stanley” contest, which involves folks screaming out the iconic scene from A Streetcar Named Desire to appreciative crowds on Jackson Square. Following this fest, the city also hosts the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival that celebrates LGBTQ authors.
March closes with two more festivals. Hogs for the Cause at the UNO Lakefront Arena is an annual celebration of whole hog roasts and local music (with some national acts in the lineup as well). The event brings awareness to pediatric brain cancer. The Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival, held at Armstrong Park, celebrates Cajun and Zydeco music with a stellar lineup of Louisiana acts, local food, an art market, and a whole lot of crawfish.
One of the most anticipated spring events in the massive lineup of the festival season in New Orleans, the Freret Street Festival stands out as the biggest neighborhood festival in the city. This free festival is usually held on the first Saturday in April on the stretch of Freret Street from Napoleon to Valmont. Expect dozens of vendors, a food court, and several music stages. Zeus Place, located on Freret St., had been a constant presence at the fest, offering pet adoptions.
Come Easer, the heavily Catholic city celebrates the end of Lent with three parades. The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade winds its way on Easter Sunday, before Easter Mass services begin, from Antoine’s Restaurant to St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square via classic convertible cars and mule-drawn carriages. When the parade arrives at the cathedral at 11 a.m., Easter Mass begins. Following services, folks prim and pose in Jackson Square, showing off their best Easter duds, before heading back to Antoine’s to break their Lent fasts like nobody’s business.
This procession is followed by the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade, featuring the Crescent City’s own grande-dame diva of singing, dancing, and general fabulousness, Chris Owens, along with a small army of attendants, rolling from Canal and Bourbon streets to her nightclub and performance venue at 500 Bourbon St. The final parade of the day, also in the French Quarter, is the Gay Easter Parade, a long-standing tradition of the New Orleans LGBTQ community.
Next up are the two heavy-hitters on the city’s event calendar, the French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest. The French Quarter Fest is the largest free musical event in the New Orleans calendar, and according to organizers, the largest free music festival in the USA. The setting is, as you may have guessed from the name, the French Quarter itself. The festival goes off in mid- April, which tends to come with gorgeous weather, and the lineup of musicians and food vendors is always fantastic.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, commonly known as Jazz Fest, is the preeminent music festival of a city that is pretty well known for its music festivals. Held on the New Orleans Fair Grounds Racecourse in Mid-City, the event takes place on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May, occupying the local weather sweet spot that links spring to summer. A dozen music stages and tents encompass genres and acts ranging from gospel to Cajun to rock and pop.
A major part of the appeal is food tents, which feature a regular rotating sampling of some of the city’s finest cuisine. Even more than Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest has a crop of devoted repeat attendees; a sizable amount of visitors rent out homes on an annual basis for Fest, which has become something of a pilgrimage for a certain set of music aficionados. In the weekdays that link Jazz Fest’s official dates, random gigs constantly pop off around town.
The spring roster of festivities continues into May with the Whitney Zoo-To-Do evening fundraiser at the Audubon Zoo; the free and popular Bayou St. John three-day extravaganza on the bayou’s banks in Mid-City, Bayou Boogaloo; and the Greek Fest in Lakeview, complete with a toga contest and Greek staples like souvlaki and spanakopita. The Boogaloo has a smaller, more local feel that, say, the French Quarter Fest, and usually draws out an impressive flotilla of all kinds of vessels, from the expertly constructed, massive rafts to kayaks to giant inflatables, that park and party on the bayou for the duration of the festival.
Woldenberg Park in the French Quarter also hosts a two-day free fest celebrating one of Louisiana’s favorite activities, slurping and savoring everything oyster. Oyster Festival features live music, arts and crafts, and oyster shucking and eating competitions. There are also cooking demos and the Largest Oyster Contest.
Traditionally held on the second weekend of June, the French Market Creole Tomato Festival welcomes the arrival of Creole tomato that Louisiana loves to incorporate into many local recipes. The French Market location and the food offerings make this a popular festival among the locals and visitors alike. The festival features live music, kids’ activities, a parade, and a second line. There are cooking demos in addition to an extensive menu of Creole tomato incorporated into gelato, crepes, crawfish pies — you name it.
The festival usually features a Bloody Mary market in Dutch Alley and a tomato-eating contest. There will be local restaurants and bars offering the Marys, the Marias, and other variations of the signature cocktail, competing for “Best of the Fest” awards in such categories as Most Creative Bloody Mary and Best Bloody Mary Garnish.
Finally, NOLA Caribbean Festival closes out Caribbean Heritage Month over two weekends in June, highlighting New Orleans’ deep-rooted connections as the Caribbean’s northern-most city. Over 20 events include parties, parades and food experiences, peppered across the city (venues include locals hotels and clubs, Congo Square, and Central City BBQ).
Visiting New Orleans this spring? Take advantage of the French Market Inn specials, group rates, and best-rate guarantee. Reserve your room today!